Many people digest the news via late night or comedy (panel) shows. For many this seems to be the sole source of information. John Oliver and Trevor Noah spend a lot of time explaining news context.

Now, laughing about the mistakes and hypocrisies of the powerful can be a good thing. However, there is a risk that by merely laughing about it we confirm the status quo, because if it’s funny it cannot be that bad. Maybe a reason, why people like Jon Stewart and Bremner are not around anymore. Comedy soothes us in and gives us a sense of meaning where anger would be required.

Putting Trump on comedy makes him more human.

The number of comedy panel shows in the UK is really overwhelming. This might be because they are actually easy to produce and the format doesn’t seem to wear out. It’s like having a chat for lonely people.

Comedians tend to be working or middle class and left leaning. However, social critique features very little. In the drive to capitalise on being part of the media machine/business they forget the role they could have. Many of them become celebrities, the same type they ridicule.

Standup comedians seem to rely on certain effects nowadays: swearing, description of slapstick moments (eg drunkenness), repetitiveness, dropping of random facts which are then picked up later in a close (to give the feel of some sophistication). Vulgarity has really increased in TV comedy, it seems to be the way to connect with a larger working class audience.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like comedy but I think we attach too much power to its creators. They cannot fulfil the social change that we desire.

I was reading Albin Aberg’s paper ‘The Reflexive Self and Social Media’ (Amsterdam 2016), it seems to be his MA thesis. He tries to explain how social media labour can be seen through the Marxist lense. How can we explain that people work for free on social media and create content and user data?

Aberg contrasts the view of Andrejevic, Fisher and Rey with that of Giddens. As a social media user the individual is always answerable to their audience; the timeline is forever available. We are dealing with spatiotemporal ‘displacement’. Control is possible without spatial presence. The timeline narrative has become a separate object.

Users need to construct a narrative which they share with the world. Facebook is obviously a panopticon – everyone can see and control others. Identity work limits us, we are now less experimental with our identity. Users produce content and a ‘servable audience’ via data.

Giddens sees (late modern) life as a project. Reflexivity is a constant mirror stage where the individual needs to create his ‘identity’ via self-interrogation. The individual needs to be seen to be in control by others. Because Facebook answers our call for reflexivity, we keep on expanding and using it.

Aberg summarises nicely: ‘It is in this relationship between exchange-value that is extracted through the commodified dataset in order to be resold to the user as targeted ads that the alienating aspect, and also the reflexive moment (for the individual in a vacuum) of Facebook is located.’

As a new form of exploitation we have the interweaving of brands and branded content into the identity of users (prosumption). This then leads the next user to continue the brand labour.

I always wondered about the message in ‘Charlie in the Chocolate Factory’ (‘Charlie’ from here). The story is too popular to be meaningless. Dahl seems to idolize poverty. But we have two versions of the rich capitalist, the profit seeking father of Veruca and the factory owner Wonka himself. Wonka employs unpaid drones: Oompa Loompas. Wonka satisfies and creates our desire for chocolate. Yet too much consumption (fat) is not good. We see the four sins of gluttony, spoiledness/overindulgence, gum and fame addiction, TV addiction (over stimulation).

Dahl’s vision is a very religious one, being poor is a virtue. But good things (factory ownership) come to those that are virtuous.

I think there are two ways it can be interpreted: One, Wonka is a good capitalist who wants to stress the good things about the system. He creates fairness (chance to win) for everyone who can afford chocolate. He is not profit but quality driven. Second, Wonka is neither good nor bad, he is eccentric, he is part of the system but he lacks empathy for (spoiled) children – he doesn’t see that it’s the parents’ fault. Maybe it is important for children to understand this ambiguity of life. We can hope but not expect goodness.

If Wonka was a real socialist (or prophet), why would he not give away chocolates to the poor?

You can read a few more views on Reddit, OfWealth, Vice, and LiteraryRamblings.

Marco Wehr wrote an article in the German FAZ about the secrets of genius – the main message stayed with me. Einstein claimed that you need nose and forehead to be successful (a genius) – symbolising curiosity and persistence. Scientific success (uniqueness) doesn’t require a very high IQ or very early triumph. But hard word will get you further. Breakthrough comes after long periods of dryness – drilling of thick timber.